The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Allegations about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 race have been promoted by an array of figures, including right-wing journalists whose work the president avidly consumes, as well as Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer. But U.S. intelligence officials told lawmakers and their staff members this past fall that Russian security services played a major role in spreading false claims of Ukrainian complicity, said people familiar with the assessments.
The concern among senior White House officials that Putin helped fuel Trump’s theories about Ukraine underscores long-standing fears inside the administration about the Russian president’s ability to influence Trump’s views.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
The Russian Embassy in Washington declined to address whether Putin told Trump that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 campaign, saying only that information about the two leaders’ conversations is available on the Kremlin’s website.